Friday 10:26 p.m.: “It’s not you .?.?. I hate everyone.” With Lilith Fair sincerity, “comedy indie chick rock” act Mandy Steckelberg is strumming an acoustic and spewing delicate vitriol in the back room of The Derby. The small stage is cluttered with her full band and a potted palm tree crippled with Christmas lights as she delivers, with melodic and saccharine vocals, the punch line: “Fuck you in the face.” It’s like Sarah McLachlan on truth serum.
Friday, 11:37 p.m.: I feel like someone’s mom at a school dance. I’m jet-lagged, and have taken residence on a vinyl bench at the Echo, swaddled in a coat and a scowl. Hazy with exhaustion, I text a casual threat of suicide to a comrade, moments before the Blood Arm is introduced by a fey man sputtering a methy monologue about God hand-selecting the best band in the universe. Lead singer Nathaniel Fregoso strides on with a lascivious swagger in tight jeans and a belt buckle the size of a baby’s head, and sings against the serotonin-inducing mix of keyboards, bright surfy guitar and clear, poppy drumming. The foursome charms me off my keester, and it’s not long before I’m drawn to the lake of people lapping at the front of the stage. Commanding drummer Zach Amos to “drop a beat,” Fregoso launches into the first few verses of Justin Timberlake’s “SexyBack,” which then gets mashed into their own anthem of narcissism: “Suspicious Character.” Bouncing shoulder to shoulder with an increasingly randy crowd, I discover that my jet lag and suicidal intentions have been replaced by a giddy grin.
Saturday, 7:36 p.m.: “Are you going to poke me in the butt?” I’m generally not so forward with strangers, but I have to look out for myself. The Echo Park gallery/workshop space Machine Project is hosting its annual Fry-b-que, a deep-frying potluck, and the amiable and sharply dressed director Mark Allen has just suggested that I get on my hands and knees on the cold hardwood floor. I turn to my comrade, who gives me a look to convey, “Nobody’s going to poke you in the butt.” Peering through a tiny hole in the flooring, also known as a “stabilized rift in the time/space continuum,” I view the bizarre contents of their “secret gallery” before hurrying to my feet, unviolated. The space is thick with intellectual hipsters and evaporated canola oil, and for five bucks one can deep-fry the edible of his choosing. I watch a girl wearing Christmas antlers and holding batter-caked taco tongs deep-frying a mini Snickers bar. As she roots the melted lump out from the grease with chagrin, she explains: “Twinkies work better because they’re, like .?.?. all fake.”
Sunday, 11:08 p.m.: Fresh off a stint on Letterman, local music darlings Silversun Pickups are playing their second of two sold-out shows at the Troubadour when lead singer ?Brian Aubert encounters technical difficulties with his pedal board. Declaring through a wide smile that “the whiskey’s working fantastic; everything else is retarded!” he crouches at the foot of the stage with a flustered sound man while drummer Christopher Guanlao, bassist Nikki Monninger and keyboardist Joe Lester continue churning a loop of “Waste it On” for roughly seven minutes. Aubert then hops up, and resumes amid the audience’s howls; standing on monitors and beaming ear to ear, he’s the most energetic I’ve seen him. But as the extended ?song winds down, Monninger clutches her aching wrists, timidly approaches her mike and peeps in a tiny voice, “I’m exhausted.” ?The crowd, fists pumping, appears ?not to be.